Russia’s Great Game in the Middle East


Russia’s military intervention in Syria has changed the rules of the game, not just for the outcome of that country’s civil war, but also for the balance of power in the region.

By coming to the aid of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Moscow is seeking to save its last client state in the Middle East, and increase its power and diplomatic leverage on the world stage. Its intervention comes at a critical time for Assad, helping shore up his hold over core areas in western Syria in the face of rebel advances.

Moscow’s intervention is a high-risk gamble with major potential dividends:

  • By expanding its military presence and playing a direct military role in Syria’s civil war, Russia is seeking to ensure that it has a major say in deciding the outcome of the conflict.
  • Its priority is to ensure that any regime that follows Assad favours Russian interests, in particular by allowing it to hold onto its military bases that provide it with a strategic foothold in the Middle East.
  • Moscow’s intervention poses a major challenge to US dominance in the region, and provides it with increased leverage against the West in the stand-off over Ukraine.

However, the gamble also entails major risks for Moscow. Its currently limited intervention could quickly escalate into a much deeper and open-ended operation that incurs huge costs for Russia itself. It also threatens to damage Moscow’s ties with key regional players, the Gulf Arab states, Turkey and Israel.

Review our Client Conference Call from October 13 to understand the implications of these changes for regional stability.

We assessed the implications of Russia’s intervention for:

  • Russian political stability and the economy;
  • Russian Middle East policy;
  • the outlook for the Syrian civil war;
  • the international fight against Islamic State group
  • the United States’ role in the region;
  • the risk of accidental conflict with Turkish, Israeli and US air forces;
  • the Gulf states; and
  • the stand-off between Moscow and the West.